Why Atheists can still be Spiritual


If the label alone is interpreted carelessly, an atheist is confronted with the notion that he or she is “against God”. Whether by carelessness, ignorance, spite or militance however, this thinking is misleading and wrong. Has theology come to mean all things of God, or of any spiritual nature whatever? I would then have to take great and personal exception to the label and its connotative meaning, and the all-too-common leap of logic that the believer or holder or practitioner of such a philosophy is likewise without morals, or possessed of any standard of right and wrong, or the willingness to struggle with matters thereto. In other words, being a-theological does not mean that one is spiritual.

In fact, the truth may very well be quite intensely the opposite. For my purposes, and out of a rigorously literal habit toward language, I am going to take atheism to mean being without, or aversive of, the formal prescribed theological doctrine and the ritualized and cultural worship of a specific diety, and the historical and dogmatic adherence to a habitualized and autonomic compliance with some set of rules and dicta that have magically come from on high. I mean no disrespect or even allusion, to those faithful who take into their hearts the meaning and calling of their faith and Father, and who pain themselves to live the doctrine, not just blindly obey MAN’S interpretation of the same.

Are you strugglingly observant practitioners of faith?

In fact, I count myself among those strugglingly observant practitioners of their faith. Mine and many atheists’ faith have brought them and us to a place of some very seriously considered doubt toward what has become the mainstream and compartmentalized “us versus them” branches of worship. I find much to question in any text that would, within the same cover, preach obedience toward one’s father or master or husband, and simultaneously declare an equally severe demand to honor all the other commandments – even when said father or husband or master would have you act in violation of the Word you are trying to desperately to heed.

Many folks by now will yawn at the example immediately cited, and strike it down among what they regard as the trite and cliched arguments of all those who are doomed or condemned. “Can God make a rock so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it?”, et cetera, they argue, is the non-believer’s weak-minded blasphemy of expecting God to prove Himself before them.

I submit, however, that the two are nothing alike. The impossibly heavy rock parlor banter is not proof of a lack of God. It is a plain and basic catch-22 that is as much a part of life as anything finite. “How can space go on forever? Okay, but if it ends, then what is beyond that end?” See? A catch-22. It has nothing to do with theology or faith. It is the bane of logicians and physicists and geeks (myself among them) of all stripes and persuasions – but not intellectually rigorous counter-proof of God or some non-physical reality.

Nor, however, is a disavowing of the equally trite and simplistic mantra that fills the pages of many, many theological texts – any greater counter proof of faith among atheists! The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

The one-seventh pious pseudo-believer (you know, the guy who hushes his children and acts all solemn and abiding for 45 minutes every Sunday, but perhaps guzzles the beer and smacks his brats and steals pens from the office in his non-churchgoing life) is no more worthy of elevated regard or misconstrued deference than is the blatantly “sinful” criminal or fornicator or liar.

But make no mistake about this: it is equally as true that the engaged and serious and mindful and struggling and prayerful observer of a prescribed faith is the same species of human as the atheist who is likewise forever arriving anew at his own engaged and serious and mindful struggle to understand the world both physical and nonphysical. They both want deeply to live right and true and meaningfully.

Indeed – they are both devoutly spiritual.

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